Review Category : Science & Technology

UC Davis experts weigh in on global warming

We have all heard about the foreboding effects of global warming. Global warming is happening, and its ramifications affect everything from increased natural disaster probabilities to food decline and shortage. The facts are all around us: California’s drought, rising sea water and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s report stating scientists are 95 percent certain that mankind is the “dominant cause.” So how can we fix our planet? Dr. Anthony Wexler, who is the director of the UC Davis Air Quality Research Center and a member of three departments at UC Davis (mechanical and aerospace engineering, civil and environmental engineering and land, air and water resources) offered his opinion on the crisis. “The reality is we aren’t doing nearly enough. One of the best ways we could reduce global warming is by imposing taxes on carbon emissions which would stay until there was a noticeable decrease. Such a tax would have to be extended to both imported and exported goods, based on how much greenhouse gas emission was associated. Taxing... ...

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UC Davis study finds antibacterial soaps may have health risks

Germs, bacteria, microbes, parasites and viruses — we all want to stay away from them, especially during the dreaded flu season. To do so, we often rely on antibacterial soaps to give us peace of mind that our hands are squeaky clean. However, a UC Davis study in collaboration with University of Colorado found that triclosan, a chemical found in antibacterial soaps like Dial, may impair muscle function. Because triclosan has been a concern for both human and environmental health, the researchers evaluated the effects of this common household item on muscle activity in a series of experiments with mice and fish. “Triclosan weakens skeletal and cardiac muscle contraction by interfering with molecular signals that link the electrical impulses at the surface of the muscle cell to the release of calcium from inside the muscle cell. Interfering with the release of calcium inside muscle cells is absolutely essential for contraction,” said Dr. Isaac Pessah, professor and chair of the Department of Molecular Biosciences at the UC Davis School of Veterinary... ...

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Mandatory kill switch technology bill enters California State Senate

Californians may be seeing some extra security on their phones if San Francisco District Attorney (DA) George Gascón’s bill passes. Cell phone theft has risen to become a global pandemic and Senate Bill (SB) 962 intends to address that. Due to rising smartphone thefts, a mandatory kill switch may be put on every device by 2015. “SB 962 will require any smartphone or tablet in California to include a technological solution that renders the essential features of the phone inoperable when stolen,” said Max Szabo, legislative affairs and policy manager at the office of DA Gascón. Those behind the bill hope that the ability to turn stolen smartphones into bricks may deter thieves from stealing them in the first place. The idea is to get rid of the incentive (the resellability) to greatly reduce theft, therefore saving people from being victimized. The specific technology behind the kill switch would be up to the companies. By not having one universal kill switch technology, there is hope that it will be even... ...

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Researchers create new method for producing biogasoline

Researchers at UC Davis have created a new process for “biogasoline.” The procedure effectively converts cellulosic and biomass materials — including waste from cities, farms and forests — into potential gasoline substances. The team of chemists who published their findings in the journal Angewandte Chemie include Professor Mark Mascal and co-author post-doctoral researchers Saikat Dutta and Inaki Gandarias. “Most biomass-derived hydrocarbons are linear chain molecules, [related] to diesel and jet fuel, but not to gasoline, which requires branched molecules,” Mascal said. Mascal’s method produces hydrocarbons that have this branched carbon chain, making the fuel available for gas-powered cars. “The techniques where diesel-range straight chain hydrocarbons can be made from biomass which then have to undergo ‘cracking,’ a known technology in the petroleum industry, for the production of gasoline-range branched hydrocarbons. Our method allows the production of gasoline-range branched hydrocarbons directly from biomass without requiring further energy-intensive processing,” Dutta said. Some biofuel processes require the biomass material to be converted into sugars for the purpose of fermentation. However, with the new... ...

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This Week in Science: Feb. 20, 2014

The science of curls Curly-haired animated characters might become more common. Research conducted by MIT and the University of Pierre and Marie Curie has gotten behind the science of curly hair. It had originally been difficult to understand how hair could curl under it’s own weight. They were able to create a toolset to predict how a strand of hair would curl which will aid computer animators in creating realistic hairstyles for characters. Science brings in the Olympic medals The patterns show that the Olympic teams with the big sponsors and new, specially-designed equipment have the edge. That is not to say that tech alone can snag the gold but that skill and tech make the winning combination. The advances in science and research for sports equipment make it difficult to keep the games fair for the teams who don’t have a big time sponsor or government funding. 12,600-year-old remains to be reburied A study published in Nature explored the remains of an infant found in Montana in 1968. After... ...

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UC Davis Formula Electric builds all-electric racecar

Every week, a group of UC Davis mechanical and electrical engineering majors gather in Bainer Hall. There, they integrate knowledge from electrical circuits, dynamics, material properties and many other engineering disciplines. Their goal? To build the fastest electric racecar they can under the guidelines of the Society of Automotive Engineers’ (SAE) Formula Electric competition. You might know them as the former Formula Hybrid team. This year, they have switched focus to electrical vehicles. According to several Formula Electric members, electric vehicles are the way of the future. “You can do more with a bigger electric motor. With a hybrid, you are constrained by the chassis and how much power you can put out,” said Jeff Bouchard, a fourth-year electrical engineering major. The general overview of how electric vehicles work starts with the motor. The motor turns electrical energy into mechanical energy, propelling the vehicle into motion. The motor receives commands from a computer called the motor controller. A person may input different commands to the motor controller, such as throttling.... ...

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Social media can impact future employment

Today, almost everyone has an internet presence. Social media has grown to be a great resource for Aggies to connect with friends; however, it can be a double-edged sword. At this moment, is there something on your Facebook that you wouldn’t want a current or future employer to see? Or even a potential grad school or professional school? Mary Ellen Slayter is a career expert with Monster. “Every recruiter that I know, every HR person that I know are all using tools that integrate social media into the way that companies filter through applicants for jobs. This is accelerating,” Slayter said. It is becoming more and more common for a social media presence to be looked at to judge an applicant’s suitability. Social media has given companies a window beyond your resume into your life. Employers use it to see if you would be a good image for their company. “Part of what companies do when they for you on social media is to see how you conduct yourself. They... ...

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This week in science:1/30/14 – 2/4/14

Rock, gas preserve fossil beds The Yixian and Jiufotang fossil beds in northeast China are known for having produced some of the most well-preserved plant and animal fossils ever found. The cause of such pristine preservation is now expected to be because of pyroclastic flows, which are high-speed rivers of rock and gas. It was the presence of sediment and cracks in the fossil bones that prompted a team led by Baoyu Jiang of Nanjing University to publish their findings in the Nature Communications Journal. http://www.nature.com/ncomms/2014/140204/ncomms4151/full/ncomms4151.html Percentage of global smokers decrease, but news not all good A study from the University of Washington published in Journal of the American Medical Association broke down smoking percentage by country and gender from 1980 to 2012. On a global scale, male smoking dropped from 41 percent to 31 percent, and 11 percent to 6 percent for females. However, due to worldwide population growth, the total number of smokers rose from 721 million in 1980 to 967 million in 2012. The study also found... ...

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Print it with Flag

Living the college lifestyle often means having to learn to carefully budget your expenses. College students in particular are always looking for creative ways to still find what they want/need for the lowest possible prices. Now with the Flag app, college students and other budget-savvy shoppers can print photos saved on a smartphone for absolutely free. Entrepreneur Samuel Agboola recognizes the fact that printing out precious memories can become very costly very quickly. For instance, a printout of 20 photos at a local pharmacy such as CVS can cost over $75. Using only 220 gram photo paper from sustainable sources, this kickstarter company promises its users a printout of 20 free high-quality photos a month, with no additional shipping costs. In order to make a profit, ads get printed on the backs of photos. By charging for these ads, the company is able to maintain profits. If one is not particularly fond with the idea of ads printed on the back of the photos, one can order blank prints for... ...

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World’s most advanced instrument for imaging plants turns skyward

The search for planets outside our solar system is an underreported but active field. Dozens of powerful instruments have been designed to detect these faint heavenly bodies in unique ways. Whether ground-based or in orbit, they face numerous challenges. The Gemini Planet Imager (GPI) opened in November last year and is the most recent addition to this exclusive group of space investigators. The GPI is the world’s most advanced instrument for directly observing light coming from Jupiter-sized, or Jovian, planets. Located in Chile, it is the culmination of a decade of work among many institutions, including UC Santa Cruz, the Lawrence Livermore National Observatory and UCLA. GPI is designed to observe the atmospheres of large young planets within tens of light years away and take their spectra, which reveals the planets’ composition. “Newly-formed planets are very warm, and the Gemini Planet Imager looks in the infrared to detect their light,” said Jeffrey Chilcote, a graduate student at UCLA and a contributor to the GPI project. Hot solid objects emit light... ...

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UC Davis study finds little difference in efficacy of donor tissue based on age

Much like other parts of the body, parts of the eye can be transplanted. Unfortunately, there are cornea shortages around the world. In order to better this situation, UC Davis’ Dr. Mark Mannis and his multicenter research team conducted 10 years of fieldwork that compared the longevity of corneas from older donors to corneas from younger donors in transplant recipients. “The study confirmed the fact that older tissue functions just as well as younger tissue,” said Mannis, UC Davis professor, chair of the UC Davis Eye Center and co-principal investigator of the cornea study. This is the largest corneal study ever done. For 10 years it compared the corneal clarity of donors ages 66 and above to donors under the age of 66. At the five-year mark the success rate of younger tissue to older tissue was the same. “Whether it was a younger donor or an older donor we saw an 86 percent chance of success,” Mannis said. At 10 years after the transplants, the results were mostly the... ...

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Circadian rhythm dictated by dietary pattern

Researchers at the University of California, Irvine have revealed a fascinating connection between cellular metabolism and the circadian rhythm — commonly known as the biological clock. Conducted in the laboratory of Dr. Paolo Sassone-Corsi, one of the world’s leading researchers on circadian genetics, a recent project examined the effects of a high-fat diet on the expression of genes responsible for unintended circadian oscillation (weird biological rhythms). The study, “Reprogramming of the Circadian Clock by Nutritional Challenge,” was published in the journal Cell in November of 2013. But first, what exactly is the circadian rhythm? For the typical college student, it’s certainly something that many of our priorities and schedules disagree with us on. However, for the ordinary sentient organism, the circadian rhythm is the daily cycle of biological events and activities that typically occur in a predictable fashion. In human beings, the circadian rhythm is responsible for processes such as the sleeping and waking cycle; it may cause one to feel keen and alert at one point of the day... ...

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Gratefulness leads to happiness

When it comes to gratefulness and positive thinking, not much research is available on children and adolescents. However, Dr. Robert Emmon’s research from UC Davis, in collaboration with Dr. Giacomo Bono (Whittier College) and Dr. Jeffrey Froh (Hofstra University) builds a scientific basis for trying to understand gratitude in children. This study is one-of-a-kind because it is the first to assess grateful thinking in adolescents — an area of research that has been neglected due to the common misconception that children are ungrateful. “Gratitude is the ability to be aware of the gifts life provides that we have done absolutely nothing to earn, deserve or receive,” said Dr. Emmons in an email interview. Seven hundred middle school students were assessed on their measures of gratitude, pro-social behavior, life satisfaction and social integration every three months for a six-month period. The researchers found that gratitude is a complex emotion that begins to spark in children around the ages of 10 and 14. “Participants were instructed to count up to five things... ...

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How helmets help

There are a lot of things we acquire when we turn 18: the right to vote, the ability to purchase lottery tickets, etc. We also gain the right to bicycle without a helmet. Whether or not this is good for us, many young Americans choose to embrace this freedom. Most don’t understand how helmets even serve to protect us from injury, but at the heart of the matter, physics explains how something so simple can prevent so much damage. When we crash our bikes, the amount of damage we receive boils down to two main things: how fast we stop and how concentrated the force is. “During a bike crash your head comes in contact with the ground and … the ground exerts forces that cause your head to stop moving,” said David Webb, a physics lecturer at UC Davis, in an email interview. The ground exerts so much force that it can stop our forward motion within seconds. Without helmets, our heads then experience an incredible amount of concentrated... ...

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Warping can compress big data

UCLA researchers in the Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science have created a new data compression technique that surpasses the capabilities of current techniques such as JPEG. The team, led by Northrop-Grumman Optoelectronics chair professor of electrical engineering at UCLA, Bahram Jalali, created their technique through the realization that data could be compressed through stretching and warping the data by way of a mathematical function. One specific application for this data compressor was targeted toward “Big Data” in the science and medical field where there are massive amounts of data needing to be processed. “Any digital object (piece of data) — a text file, a video, a picture; has a certain size, measured in bytes. Compressing that object allows you to represent it with a smaller amount of data. Compression is desirable for two main reasons. One: the compressed data takes up less space than the uncompressed data, so you can store more stuff in the same space. Two: because the compressed data has a smaller size, it... ...

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